- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On January 3, 2020
- 0 Comments
Happy New Year! It always strikes me as curious that for the secular new year we use the word “happy” as our hope for the future while at Rosh Hashana, our spiritual new year, we offer “leshanah tovah”; toward a good year. The idea of “good” connotes a desire for wholeness while the idea of “happy” feels more ephemeral. It is difficult to enter the new year happy while worried and frustrated about violence against Jews and other people.
How are we to account for the assaults and violence wrecking havoc on Jewish lives? Should we respond aggressively? Proactively? Can we approach this deep-seated problem with what I would call conciliatory confrontation?
This week’s Torah portion provides some insight. It contains the climactic moment of the Joseph narrative. For anyone who missed the story or the musical, Joseph, sold by his jealous brothers finds himself in Egypt and works his way up to vizier, chief counsel of Pharaoh overseeing the seven years of plenty to store grain to prepare for the ravages of famine. His brothers must now travel from Canaan to Egypt themselves to secure food because of the famine. The brothers find themselves face to face with the brother whom they abandoned, they did not recognize, and in fact, thought was most likely dead. Joseph had made them bring his younger brother, Benjamin, like him, the son of Rachel and beloved by his father, Jacob. He wanted to see if the brothers had changed and whether, as Aviva Zornberg describes it, “the residue of the crime they committed against him will manifest.” So Joseph hid a silver goblet in Benjamin’s belongings only for it to be found by one of Joseph’s servants. The brothers are stunned and at first, speechless. They offer themselves as slaves. Joseph only wanted Benjamin and told them to go back to their father in peace. Alu leshalom el Avichem.
They cannot go back to their bereaved father. They had destroyed the peace, the wholeness of their family twenty two years earlier when they made that fateful decision to deal with their jealousy by throwing their brother in a pit and selling him. It is at this point that our portion opens with a dramatic description of their reaction. Judah, speaking on behalf of his family, Vayigash steps forward and offers an impassioned speech. Vayigash is a revealing word. Vayigash describes just how Judah drew near. He had to confront this authority and protect his brother and, at the same time, he had to recognize the danger in facing up to the threat of losing Benjamin and having to return to his father without him. It all comes together through this word. Vayigash. Rashi, the 12th century commentator notes that Yayigash can mean war, appeasement, or prayer depending on the context. Belligerence, conciliation, and entreaty each necessitate a particular attitude and affect a different result. In our portion, however, Judah demonstrates all three in his approach.
Nechama Leibowitz, a 20th century commentator divides Judah’s speech into 3 parts. Judah begins by acknowledging his position in relation to this “equal of Pharaoh”. He calls himself an eved, a servant. He then boldly states the facts of how they ended up standing there in front of Joseph, having brought the precious youngest son of their father because Joseph had told them to. The second set of verses details the consequence of not returning with Benjamin, which would result in the death of his father, Ki ayn hana’ar vemet-if the boy is not with us, [Jacob] will die. In the third section, he makes a proposal and a plea. Judah offers himself up as the slave instead of Benjamin, for he cannot return to his father without him. Judah ends this moment of Vayigash by saying “Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father!”
His beseeching words implore Joseph to act justly. Through the use of all three of these modalities of Vayigash, Judah engaged in what I would call conciliatory confrontation. He can only succeed if he employed all three at the same time. Judah can only change the circumstance through the combination of confrontation, conciliation, and entreaty.
Violence and hatred wrapped up in antisemitism necessitates conciliatory confrontation. We must boldly confront it, while creating pathways for everyone, not just the Jews, to work together. We pray that the result will be contentment, wholeness, happiness and goodness, the joyful sounds of children laughing wherever they reside and whoever they are across the whole wide world.
We gather tonight for Qabbalat Shabbat at 6:00 p.m. Live Stream HERE. I will be speaking about the community wide letter sent entitled, “Christian Clergy Decry Violence Against the Jews” and what it beautifully reflects about the interfaith work of our community.
Shabbat morning begins at 9:00 a.m. with a short service and Torah reading followed by a lively discussion.
Thank Goodness It’s Shabbat will begin at 10:00 a.m. and the Village Prayground will be held at 2:30 p.m.
Please share your thoughts, reflections and comments with me HERE